fiction favorites…The Romeo and Juliet Code

The Romeo and Juliet Code, by Phoebe Stone

As I climbed those long dark stairs, so began my stay in Bottlebay, Maine, USA, where they didn’t have tea at night, they had supper, and no one said, “jolly good” or “jolly right”…
We were now up one flight.  There were some bedrooms off the long hall and we passed a closed door near the landing.  I was feeling ever so tired from the long stairs, so I stopped for a moment.  Uncle Gideon said, “Wait.  No.  I mean, oops, would you mind staying away from that door over there?  Could you kind of steer clear of it for me?”
“Oh,” I said, “sorry.”
The next day, the sky darkened to a miserable gray, and endless sheets of rain fell and the ocean tossed about like something terrible and unhappy and restless.  I had nothing to do but walk here and here, looking at the house…Quite by accident I heard The Gram say to Uncle Gideon in the hall, “So how are you holding up with the child being here?”
“Oh, I guess I feel like I’m being ripped to pieces,” said Uncle Gideon.
“Well, you better take this tray up to Captain Derek before she comes downstairs.”
I stood there ever so quietly behind the curtains, trying not to snore or sneeze or cry, hoping I wouldn’t get the hiccups, thinking to myself, Ripped to pieces because of me?  And who is Captain Derek?  Is there an old sea captain hidden away somewhere upstairs?  Why didn’t Winnie and Danny tell me?
I pressed myself against the window until Uncle Gideon had gone upstairs, with the dishes clattering on the breakfast tray, and The Gram had disappeared into the back rooms behind the kitchen.  How could Winnie and Danny have left me here with an uncle who was angry with them and a sea captain I knew nothing about tucked away somewhere in the house and a door I had to steer clear of and a sky that only rained?

It is May, 1941, and World War II has already been devastating Europe for almost two years.  11-year-old Felicity has survived thus far in London, but now her parents, Winnie and Danny, have risked the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic to install her in Maine with her uncle, aunt, and grandmother. 

From the start, Felicity encounters an atmosphere shrouded in mystery.  Why are her parents greeted so coldly by her American relatives?  What is the tiny box she sees Danny slip into Uncle Gideon’s pocket?  Why is the one room upstairs strictly off-limits?  Why is the piano lid nailed shut? And who is Captain Derek, so isolated and unseen in this tall Victorian house on the rugged Maine coast?

Then, too, her relatives are a curious bunch, with Uncle Gideon daily standing on his head, Aunt Miami routinely reciting lines from Romeo and Juliet, and The Gram making cryptic comments when she thinks Felicity can’t hear.  When a letter arrives addressed in Danny’s handwriting, with Portugese stamps on it (though he is supposed to be in England), and when Uncle Gideon snatches it away from her with uncharacteristic snapishness, Felicity determines to understand just what is going on in this odd Bathburn household.


a much better cover photo...for example!

The story of Felicity’s perplexing search is written in creamy, poetic prose.  Phoebe Stone spins her story our with a beauty that hushes us, a strangeness that mystifies us, and an unhurried pace that taunts our need to have these matters all cleared up.  Felicity herself is an unusual narrator.  At only 11 years old, there is a lot about her own life she does not understand, and we are limited to her point of view.  She is a lonely, confused, anxious young girl; a thinker, a dreamer, a Secret Garden fan.  As she uncovers the mysteries surrounding her, she also learns some very unexpected details about her own life which are far from easy.  These, too, she has to grapple with.

I enjoyed this book, published just this January, and would definitely recommend it…to some.  It requires a reader who doesn’t demand non-stop action, and it will most definitely appeal to girls rather than boys.  I’d say age 11 and up.  The cover of the book, by the way, is completely illogical.  Neither the photo’s modern tone nor the subject of the photograph have anything to do with the story!  There’s another mystery!  Whyever did they choose it?!

Amazon link:  The Romeo And Juliet Code